(Science: geography) A republic in western africa, southwest of algeria and west of mali. Its capital is nouakchott. Its coast was opened by the portuguese in the 15th century.
Although recognised as in the french sphere from 1817, it did not become a french colony until 1921. It gained independence in 1960. Mauritania takes its name from the moors, either from the greek mauros, dark, with reference to their skin or from the punic mahurim or mauharin, western, with reference to the geographical area of north africa that they occupied. It should not be confused with the ancient country of mauretania in northern africa, although both share a common derivation for their names.